UN peacekeeping forces “aiming to reach vulnerable people in remote parts of South Sudan”
One hundred and fifty women draped in white gowns sing messages of peace in the town of Akobo, in a remote and hard-to-reach area in the north-east of the South Sudan close to the border with Ethiopia.
They wave placards calling for peace and the end of the almost 4-year old conflict in South Sudan which has driven four million people, a third of the population, from their homes.
Mary Nyknchol, is the leader of women widows in Akobo and part of a group of women who describe themselves as “agents of peace” in the war-torn community, leading peace talks and workshops.
“The problem that faces South Sudanese affects mostly women and children. I am so tired to see so many children and women dying but also the deaths of our fathers. We are all widows here. Why is there no peace in South Sudan? We need peace to come in South Sudan.”
Some 71,000 displaced people are currently living in Akobo and the surrounding area after fleeing fighting between government SPLA and opposition forces to the north-east.
The humanitarian needs of people in Akobo are “extensive” according to Mikolaj Radlicki who represents ACTED, one of 10-15 local and international NGOs which are providing humanitarian assistance in the town.
Insecurity in the region and poor road conditions mean it is logistically challenging and expensive to support aid programmes there. During the rainy season the only way to deliver aid is by air.
The United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) is looking at ways of extending its presence in the town to support the humanitarian response, in line with its mandate to protect civilians and help create an environment conducive to the delivery of humanitarian aid.
ACTED’s Mikolaj Radlicki welcomed the initiative and said “the presence of peacekeepers will provide the NGO partners here greater security and we will be able to expand our activities, simply because we feel that there is someone to protect us. I think this will have an impact on our programming, which can grow and ultimately we can reach more beneficiaries in the area.”
The UN mission had operated a base in Akobo but it was closed down following an attack in December 2013 in which two Indian peacekeepers and thirty civilians were killed.
The head of UNMISS, David Shearer, visited Akobo which lies in an opposition-held part of South Sudan, to understand the needs of the community, the authorities and humanitarian workers based there.
“As UNMISS we need to reach communities in need in all parts of the country, no matter what their ethnic or political background,” he said.
“The UNMISS mandate is to protect civilians and support humanitarian work, so it was important to hear from humanitarians here how the presence of peacekeepers and other mission personnel can help.”
The UN peacekeeping mission has been stepping up flights into Akobo sending in peacekeepers and UNMISS staff on temporary assignments.